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A Trip To Mars (Heaven Ship/Himmelskibet)
Why I Chose This Film.
I originally intended to write a hub about the first science fiction film to be produced, the French film Le Voyage Dans La Lune (Voyage To The Moon) 1902 by Georges Melies. However I found that another fine hub has been written about it already (click the name of the film for the link to that hub). As a result I decided to write a hub about what is recognised as being the second film ever produced in this genre, the Danish film Himmelskibet (Heaven Ship) or more widely known as A Trip To Mars. Being of Danish ancestry myself, I felt this was appropriate. And last but not least, the moral of the story also appealed to me.
Journalist Phil Hardy referred to it as "the film that marked the beginning of the space opera subgenre of science fiction," but notes that Denmark did not make another science fiction film until Reptilicus in 1962.
A Trip To Mars (Heaven Ship)
Himmelskibet (1917) director: Holger-Madsen producer: Holger-Madsen screenplay: Ole Olsen, Sophus Michaelis (from the novel by Sophus Michaelis) cinematography: Frederik Fuglsang, Louis Larsen cast: Gunnar Tolnaes, , Philip Bech, Frederik Jacobsen, Lily Jacobson, Alf Blutecher, Svend Kornbech, Nicolai Neliendam, Alfred Osmund and Nils Asther.
This film is a true oddity that initially seems ahead of its time in many ways. Though the images were sometimes startling this film was in no way simply an exercise in special effects. In fact it uses Mars more as a metaphor of what an ideal human society may be like.
Though largely forgotten until 2006, when the film was restored and re-released on DVD by the Danish Film Institute, A Trip To Mars was a major and expensive production in Denmark at the time, boasting massive and amazing sets, with Martian landscapes filmed at a rock quarry near Copenhagen.
Contradictory to more recent movies involving contact between humans and aliens, in this early film the Earth travellers are actually welcomed by the people of Mars, who are pacifists and vegetarians. The Martians are long since past their uncivilized and warlike stages of evolution, unlike the Earthlings.
The leader of the Earth mission, Professor Planetarios (Nils Asther), falls in love with the local High Priest's beautiful daughter (Lily Jacobsen), and they return to Earth to promote the advanced ideals of peace and tolerance.
Despite the expensive (at the time) and elaborate production design, there is no attempt to make anything unusual of the Martian landscape or of the Martians themselves. Holger-Madsen deliberately intended that the aliens be different from the voyagers purely by virtue of their moral superiority. The Martian world is therefore classically styled, the inhabitants wearing togas, with the social hierarchy having sages and philosophers as the leaders.
A number of critics have pointed out the film's numerous illogical areas and absurdities: for example the fact that the Sun is the same relative size to the landscape of Mars as it is to the Earth (despite Mars being further from the Sun); the airship-like rocket with propellers and horizontal trajectory; a Martian globe of the Earth showing the North Pole at the top, etc. These critics, however, don't allow for the fact that this story/film was conceived long before many of the realities of space travel, that we now take for granted, were generally known
A Trip To Mars was produced in the throws of the First World War, which showed little sign of ending. This being the case, this film is an impressive plea for compassion and tolerance, featuring as it does perhaps the least antagonistic meeting between Earthlings and Martians in screen history. The fact that it is among the first alien/earthling screen encounters makes this seem somewhat tragic given how society envisages such encounters today.
Himmelskibet can therefore really be seen as a reaction to the outbreak of WWI rather than an accurate prediction of the 1960s' alternative culture. Less surprisingly, perhaps, it stands alone as an example of early Danish fantasy cinema
Lilly Jacobsson arrived as a young girl to Svenske Biografteatern in 1911 and appeared in a string of Swedish films until 1914. After winning a beauty contest, she landed a contract with Nordisk Film in 1916. Her natural beauty graced many dramas but she chose retirement when marrying in 1919. Only her former colleague, Asta Nielsen, could persuade her to appear in her own German production of "Hamlet".
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Poul, Denmark
Gunnar Tolnaes (1879-1940) had his most famous performance as an Indian prince in the Danish orientalist melodrama Maharadjahens Yndlingshustru (The Maharaja's Favourite Wife) in 1917, with Lilly Jacobson. It was so popular that it had a Danish sequel in 1919, and a German sequel in 1921. After a substantial film career in Denmark he alternated acting in German films as well as in Danish films, until the end of the silent era. (flickr.com)
Tolnæs's film credits, all silent films, include:
- Children of the Streets (1914)
- One of the Many (1915)
- Himmelskibet (1918)
- Sex in Chains (1928)
A supporting actor from the movie A Trip To Mars ultimately had the most cinematic success His name was Nils Asther.
Nils Asther was a Danish-born Swedish actor who became active in Hollywood from 1926 to the mid 1950s. Between 1916 and 1963 he appeared in over 70 feature films, of which 16 were done in the Silent area.(Wikipedia)
Asther was only 21 as the time of filming and this was only the second moving picture he had been in. He didn't have a big part in Himmelskibet and he played one of the multitude of young martian citizens.
Do you believe there is life on other planets?
First Science Fiction Films
Date of Release
Name of Film
Country of Origin
Le Voyage Dans La Lune